A discordant marriage of juvenile live-action and sophisticated stop-motion animation, "The Flying Machine" is a vibrant celebration of Frederic Chopin, whose music saturates the proceedings, bookended by some tedious shenanigans involving actress Heather Graham and Chinese classical-music superstar Lang Lang.

A discordant marriage of juvenile live-action and sophisticated stop-motion animation, “The Flying Machine” is a vibrant celebration of Frederic Chopin, whose music saturates the proceedings, bookended by some tedious shenanigans involving actress Heather Graham and Chinese classical-music superstar Lang Lang. Hunger for children’s programming may give this Polish/Chinese co-production a boost, but the animation segment, as accomplished and moving as it is, can’t rescue the rest of the film from a script written in the key of B-wildered.

Produced by some of the same creatives responsible for the Oscar-winning short “Peter and the Wolf,” “The Flying Machine” mixes media immediately: Our three principals — workaholic single mom Georgie (Graham), her piano-loving daughter Jane (Kizzy Mee) and son Fred (Jamie Munns) — are shown motoring through an obviously computerized London. They’re on their way to a concert by Lang Lang, who sits at the piano as the hall darkens, something called “The Magic Piano” begins, and the viewer is off on a bittersweet but enchanted journey.

The animation created by helmers Martin Clapp, Geoff Lindsey and Dorota Kobiela is of the melancholy Eastern European, decidedly non-Disney variety: When a man loses his home, he drops his daughter, Anna, off at the home of her cousin, a young boy who dresses like a vampire. Together the two cousins go on a trip aboard the magic piano of the title, which Anna discovers in an alleyway, generating a stark contrast between the “real life” of the stop-motion story and the fantasy of the journey. The music is gorgeous and the figures themselves — expressionless, except for the eyes — add to the somber but intoxicating tone of the piece.

The spell is broken, however, once “The Flying Machine” returns to the concert hall and the heavy-handed moralizing and dubious acting begin. Lang Lang, badly dubbed in English and doing nothing for his hipster image, comes across as something of a nag, “helping” Georgie come to grips with the idea that there’s more to life than real estate deals, and that her neglected children need some attention. Graham, like her co-stars, is not given nearly enough to do, and is reduced at one point to interpretive dance.

If there were a way to break “The Magic Piano” out of “The Flying Machine,” the resulting short would be a minor classic of stop-motion children’s storytelling. Sandwiched into the film’s mawkish live-action segments, it’s more of a lost opportunity.

Production values are superb during the animation portion of the film, and transparently computerized elsewhere. And though Lang Lang may be a grossly overrated pianist, the music is still Chopin.

The Flying Machine

Poland-China

Production

A Polish Film Institute, Ministry of Culture and National Heritage for the Republic of Poland and Distribution Workshop presentation of a Breakthru Films/Bona Film Group/Tianjin North Film Group/Storm Studios production, in association with Telewizja Polska, CanalPlus Poland, Media Skok, Zoo, Nine Eye Stone, SMB Investment, Hugh Welchman, Accel Animation and the Norwegian Film Institute. (International sales: Distribution Workshop, Hong Kong.) Produced by Hugh Welchman. Executive producers, Simon Olswang, Jeffrey Chan, Al F. Barry. Directed by Martin Clapp, Geoff Lindsey, Dorota Kobiela. Screenplay, Lindsey.

Crew

Camera (color, DCP), Krzysztof Ptak; editor, Daniel Greenway; music, Frederic Chopin; production designer, Marek Skrobecki; sound, Bernard O'Reilly. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (TIFF Kids), Sept. 9, 2011. Running time: 76 MIN.

With

Heather Graham, Lang Lang, Kizzy Mee, Jamie Munns. (English dialogue)

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